After COP23, it is now up to local and national leaders to act on their promises
By Lou del Bello
With COP23 now over, it is again up to nation states and local governments to act and implement their agreements. Wrapping up the reporting on the conference, Lou del Bello looks at coordinating climate action, and necessary changes in infrastructure and urban policy.
The real work starts now for the mayors who attended COP23 and pledged to ramp up climate action from the ground up. This year’s climate talks have been exceptional for local institutions and non-party actors at large.
Coalitions such as the C40 network, ICLEI and the Covenant of Mayors have been the unsung heroes of climate change response for years, but the recent political power shifts at international level have shone a spotlight on the vital part they play. While the US, China, the EU and other national governments reassess their role on the global climate diplomacy arena, cities, regions and businesses show them how it’s done.
Local and regional leaders show the way
Adopted by acclamation, the ‘Bonn-Fiji commitment of Local and Regional Leaders‘ reaffirmed the promise to overshoot their current climate targets, particularly in terms of mitigation, and increase cooperation between local entities around the world.
As of today, 1,019 local and regional governments from 86 countries, representing 804 million people, have reported their emissions reduction targets on the carbonn Climate Registry, the pledge says. Once achieved, the targets together would result in a reduction of 5.6 gigatonnes of CO2 by 2020, roughly equivalent to the emissions of 1.2 million passenger vehicles hitting the road for a full year. By 2050, the expected savings are up to 26.8 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent, compared to levels going as far back as 1990. Just imagine 21 million cars pumping exhaust in the air for a year, and then make them disappear.
“Compared to previous COP, the cities and regions issues are woven throughout,” said Brendan Shane, Regional Director for North America with the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. “You see them being worked right into the very heart of the discussion within each nation, and certainly in developing cities as much as others”, he said.
Interaction between cities and nations requires smooth coordination
Shane noted that the interaction between cities and nations works in two directions: “Everyone realises that just to achieve the NDCs that the nation is bringing, they have to be implemented at a local level,” he said “So they have to have this level of coordination and I think that people have known that for a long time,” but there is also an important feedback loop by which local entities inform the national governments about what is needed to implement any given solution.
Cities and regions cannot act alone, but their commitment to overachieving the Nationally Determined Contributions pledged in Paris is vital to bridge the emission gap that has left the world heading for more than 3 degrees of warming compared to pre-industrial levels.
“We need to maintain a sense of urgency.” said Ede Ijjasz Vasquez, Senior Director of Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Practice with the World Bank. He highlighted the importance of a low-carbon transition for cities in the developed and developing world in particular, where most of the infrastructure is yet to be built.
Infrastructure needs to be urgently upgraded
“The longer we wait, the higher amount of new infrastructure will lock us in in a high carbon path,” he said. “The way that power plants are designed, the way in which roads are built, the way in which cities make decisions on how fast they sprawl, will have consequences not for two or three years but forever.” He brought the example of big cities like Paris and London, which have the same shape they had 200 years ago, and an infrastructure which would be painful to radically upgrade: “It’s almost impossible to change the shape of a city and therefore the policies today and the way the cities grow, will be there for generations to come.”
In Bonn, mayors and governors have planned a clear course of action, based on cooperation between local entities but also with businesses.
“We are entering a new world,” said Andrew Steer, president of the research organisation World Resources Institute. “It used to be governments that set policies, the private sector that follows, but we now have nearly a thousand companies that have signed up to science based targets,” he said.
But Steer also added that despite their financial clout, businesses big and small “can’t [act on climate] unless they can rely on states and cities to deliver the right kind of electricity, to deliver the right kind of environment where they are able to lower their emissions.”
Towards better urban policies
On the same day of the Bonn-Fiji commitment, another ambitious plan was launched which addresses the economic opportunities of getting urban development right.
The Coalition for Urban Transitions brings together 20 leading institutions around the world with the aim to develop relevant research and help ministers and national governments design better urban policies.
“The reason why we are focussing on this” said Mark Watts, executive director of the C40 group, “is because we need to see economic growth and carbon emissions down in the highest possible number of cities”. Research shows that investing in compact and efficient cities, combating poor land use that comes with extensive urban sprawling, could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 3.7 gigatonnes of CO2 per year by 2030, and save as much as US$17 trillion by 2050.
Better urban planning, Watts added, also means reducing poverty and the creation of informal settlements where people lack services such as electricity or basic sanitation. But the way ahead is still long. “There are many cities around the world that do show this kind of progress but on aggregate we are still moving to more sprawling cities, more cars and the problems of environmental pollution that go with that.” he said.
Currently, three quarters of the world’s national governments don’t have an urban policy in place. The program is aimed at them, complementing the work of the signatories of the Bonn-Fiji commitment, that are already active and have the means to deliver.
As delegates fly home from Bonn, the new commitments will be put to the test. But the cities associations’ strong track record suggests that the promises will lead to action. Hans-Joachim Fuchtel, secretary to the Federal Minister of Economic cooperation and development of Germany, welcomed the Bonn-Fiji commitment with a reminder: “Cities cannot win the fight on their own, but without cities, the fight cannot be won at all.”
- COP27: Equipping Today’s Cities for Tomorrow’s Climate Crises - 21. November 2022
- At COP26, Cities were Climate Action Watchdogs - 23. November 2021
- COP24: What Does it Mean for Cities and Regions? - 17. December 2018